Thursday, July 14, 2011

Space Shuttle Era

NASA's space shuttle fleet began setting records with its first launch on April 12, 1981 and continues to set high marks of achievement and endurance. Starting with Columbia and continuing with Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour, the spacecraft has carried people into orbit repeatedly, launched, recovered and repaired satellites, conducted cutting-edge research and built the largest structure in space, the International Space Station.

As humanity's first reusable spacecraft, the space shuttle pushed the bounds of discovery ever farther, requiring not only advanced technologies but the tremendous effort of a vast workforce. Thousands of civil servants and contractors throughout NASA's field centers and across the nation have demonstrated an unwavering commitment to mission success and the greater goal of space exploration.

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Friday, July 8, 2011

Shuttle Atlantis fueled-up in hope of launch

Despite a dismal forecast, NASA managers decided early Friday to load the shuttle Atlantis with rocket fuel and to press ahead for an attempted launch of the orbiter on the program's 135th and final mission.

Liftoff is targeted for 11:26:46 a.m. Eastern, but with a 70 percent chance of stormy weather, mission managers held open the option of standing down later Friday morning, depending on actual conditions.

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"Mike Moses, the mission management team chair, said some people might call it silly to try and play in the rain this morning, but he said we're going to absolutely try for tanking," said countdown commentator Allard Beutel.

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"But throughout the overnight and closer to the dawn early morning hours, between six and seven o'clock, they'll keep their eyes on the forecast, of course, all night long, but around that time, they'll start getting a very focused look on the weather and see whether it's the right thing to proceed towards launch or whether the forecast really is getting worse. We'll look at perhaps standing down at that point."

Hoping for the best, engineers began pumping super-cold liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen through transfer lines to pad 39A at 2:01 a.m. Eastern. Routed through Atlantis' main engine plumbing to condition the hardware to cryogenic temperatures, the propellants then flowed into oxygen and hydrogen reservoirs in the shuttle's huge external tank. The fueling procedure was to last about three hours.

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Thursday, July 7, 2011

NASA's Hubble Makes One Millionth Science Observation

NASA's Hubble Space Telescope crossed another milestone in its space odyssey of exploration and discovery. On Monday, July 4, the Earth-orbiting observatory logged its one millionth science observation during a search for water in an exoplanet's atmosphere 1,000 light-years away.

"For 21 years Hubble has been the premier space science observatory, astounding us with deeply beautiful imagery and enabling ground-breaking science across a wide spectrum of astronomical disciplines," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. He piloted the space shuttle mission that carried Hubble to orbit. "The fact that Hubble met this milestone while studying a faraway planet is a remarkable reminder of its strength and legacy."

Although Hubble is best known for its stunning imagery of the cosmos, the millionth observation is a spectroscopic measurement, where light is divided into its component colors. These color patterns can reveal the chemical composition of cosmic sources.

Hubble's millionth exposure is of the planet HAT-P-7b, a gas giant planet larger than Jupiter orbiting a star hotter than our sun. HAT-P-7b, also known as Kepler 2b, has been studied by NASA's planet-hunting Kepler observatory after it was discovered by ground-based observations. Hubble now is being used to analyze the chemical composition of the planet’s atmosphere.
"We are looking for the spectral signature of water vapor. This is an extremely precise observation and it will take months of analysis before we have an answer," said Drake Deming of the University of Maryland and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "Hubble demonstrated it is ideally suited for characterizing the atmospheres of exoplanets, and we are excited to see what this latest targeted world will reveal."

Hubble was launched April 24, 1990, aboard space shuttle's Discovery's STS-31 mission. Its discoveries revolutionized nearly all areas of astronomical research from planetary science to cosmology. The observatory has collected more than 50 terabytes of data to-date.

Hubble's odometer reading includes every observation of astronomical targets since its launch and observations used to calibrate its suite of instruments. Hubble made the millionth observation using its Wide Field Camera 3, a visible and infrared light imager with an on-board spectrometer. It was installed by astronauts during the Hubble Servicing Mission 4 in May 2009.

"The Hubble keeps amazing us with groundbreaking science," said Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, the chairwoman of the Senate Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee that funds NASA. "I championed the mission to repair and renew Hubble not just to get one million science observations, but also to inspire millions of children across the planet to become our next generation of stargazers, scientists, astronauts and engineers."

Hubble is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. Goddard manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated for NASA by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy Inc. in Washington.